Marco Bellocchio's 'Vincere' is a dark and powerful film that follows Benito Mussolini's rise to power through the eyes of his first wife, Ida Dalser, who was seduced and then betrayed by Mussolini as he abandoned her and their son on his way to becoming Italy's dictator, ultimately disavowing any knowledge of their existence. The film starts with a stylish and operatic punch as a young Mussolini (played by Filippo Timi) veers away from socialism to form the National Fascist Party, the narrative speeding through historical events at a steady pace for the first half hour, interposed with newsreel headlines and archive footage projected on screen in a manner reminiscent of Lars Von Trier's 'Europa'.
Abruptly the film shifts focus to Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) as she is forcibly separated first from Mussolini, then from her own son and finally from the outside world as Mussolini attempts to cover up any trace of their marriage and has Dalser committed to an insane asylum. Not only does this present a shift of perspective, but it's a stark shift in the film's tone too. Gone are the stylish and grandiose themes of revolution, seduction and upheaval, replaced by a tragic and startling performance from Mezzogiorno as her character descends further into mental illness.
Filippo Timi provides a frenzied and forceful portrayal of both 'Il Duce' and the adult version of the dictator's unrequited son, but it's Giovanna Mezzogiorno's career defining performance that steals the show, showing Dalser as strong, resilient and somewhat naive in outset, harrowed, resigned and on the very brink by the film's close. Mezzogiorno's role is somewhat allegorical of the film as a whole, as like Italian society Dalser too was seduced and subsequently betrayed by the charm of the fierce and intelligent Mussolini. Ultimately with 'Vincere' Bellocchio and his lead actors present a mature and thought provoking look at one of the most clouded stories of Fascist Italy's past with an uncanny sense of style and dramatic flair and punctuated by the film's wonderful classical score. Remarkable.